Caste System of Balinese Hinduism

The ancient social order among the Indonesian Hindu kingdoms was based upon four castes.

The first one, and the highest, was hold by the Brahman (caste of the priests and the teachers). The second was hold by the Satria (caste of warriors and kings). The third was hold by the Wesya (caste of king vassals and merchants). Those three higher castes are considered as the aristocracy. The fourth caste (95% of the total population) was hold by the Sudra (lower caste of peasants and craftmen).

There was no fifth caste like in India (caste of “undesirables”). In Bali this social order exists until nowadays (everybody belongs officially to one of those four castes) but it doesn’t mean much anymore in terms of wealth, working positions, and political power. More and more the young people will choose their husband or wife without caste consideration. Brahman may work in the rice fields and a Sudra be his land owner…

A Satria may sell cigarettes in the street while a Sudra may be the president director of a local company (with higher caste people under his command). Generally the Satria have lost most or all of their ancient wealth (the change to a modern and democratic economy after independence in 1949 and the land reform in 1965 were rude chocks for many of them).

But the caste system can still be observed by the names given to people at birth, and the Balinese language.
Brahman names will always start with Ida Bagus (male) or Ida Ayu (female), the Satria names with Gusti Agung, Anak Agung, and Cokorda, and the Wesya names with Dewa, Sang and Gusti. The Sudra do not possess such titles to make their names start with.

The beginning of Sudra names indicates the order of birth (same for male and female): Wayan or Putu if they are the first child, Made or Kadek if they are the second child, Nyoman or Komang if they are the third child, and Ketut (meaning “the last one”) if they are the fourth one…

Balinese are traditionally “invited” to limit their family to four children. If they can’t the fifth one will be named as the first one, Wayan or Putu, and the sixth Made or Kadek and so on… Given names will follow the “birth number” but in ordinary circumstances people of the Sudra caste will introduce themselves with their “birth number” only.

During religious ceremonies or village councils respect and special consideration are still expressed to the higher caste people (maybe with an ironic smile on some Sudra faces…).
Balinese language is divided in different levels of politeness (low Balinese, medium Balinese, high Balinese and sacred Balinese, which is comparable to Indian Sanskrit). A Sudra will usually address himself to a Satria, Brahman or Wesya in the high Balinese and the aristocrat fellow answer in low Balinese to affirm his superiority. Only some Brahman do know the sacred language (and some scholars).

Among themselves the aristocrats do usually talk in medium Balinese. Young Balinese in towns often choose the Indonesian language in a move to react against the old social order. Still, it is well known that Brahman young men are more often “playboys” (able to catch girls easily) then the Sudra are (it is said that Sudra girls still dream of climbing the hierarchy and to become a “Jero”, a new Brahman woman, and offer themselves to any young Brahman who points his finger).

Well, this is what a Sudra friend told me (some jalousie I guess might have exaggerated the phenomena!). He confessed me as well that bringing a Brahman girl into his arms is something of a very nice target to start the Saturday night (no comment given about the level of language used in bed).

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